Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of August 30, 2010

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The Root of Attention

(The Way of Attention: Part 8 of 9)

In all of the approaches to attention that we have practiced in the previous parts of this series, the arrow of attention points toward whatever we are attending to, be it inward, such as our thoughts or energies or the silence, or outward such as what our senses bring. Notice, though, that the arrow has had no anchor, no clear starting point or foundation. We cannot base our attention in our thinking mind or in our emotions, in our sensory experience or in our energies, because attention is in its essence will. Part of the reason our attention tends to wander is precisely this lack of a foundation or root. So now we shall turn to being the anchor of our attention, being its starting point. We will practice being the director of our attention, the one who chooses where to point the beam of attention.

We cultivate the experience of having our attention emanate from us, from I. We cultivate the experience of being that I at the root of our attention. When we look at something, we might ask ourselves: “who is looking?” And that question can elicit us, our I, to step forward, to be the one who is looking. The core of this practice is not the question, though. It is, simply and directly, to be the one who is looking, to experience that I am the root from which this looking begins. To come into our I in any situation, we may ask ourselves “who is doing what I’m doing?” I am. And in particular for this part of the Way of Attention, we practice being the one who directs our attention, from whom our attention emanates, and experiencing being that one.

As the director of our attention we shift from being to doing, from engaging to owning, from occupying our life to being the one who shapes it, from being our attention to being the one who directs it, the one who does what we do. Whatever we do, we are the one who does it. Rather than our actions proceeding on their own by habit, we take our rightful place as the one who directs and does these actions. Rather than our experience happening on its own without someone witnessing it, we arrive as the one who sees and hears and feels, as the one who experiences our experience. When you walk, walk. Be the walker. Be the one who intends your movement. Be the one who moves. When you read, be the one who reads. When you speak, be the one who speaks.

The thought of I is merely a thought. It can, however, be backed by the force of our true I, our full intention, though it rarely is. When you ask yourself “who is looking?” or “who is doing what I’m doing?” or “who am I,” the valid response is no mere thought, but rather the core of your presence. And although your I may be focused on one particular object, it is never partial. It always represents and speaks for the whole of you, your body, mind, and heart.

The stages in the relationship between our experience, our I, and the Sacred can be looked at as follows. We begin at the stage of just reacting. What actually happens in the world around us gets overshadowed, even overwhelmed by our reactions to it. We live in and through our reactions and hardly see the actual world. Life serves up events that trigger our exaggerated highs and lows, our dramas.

At the second stage, the intensity of our identifications and attachments moderates enough for us to find a balance between what we see and our reactions to what we see. This ordinary mode of life still enslaves us to our reactions, which drive and motivate our actions. But it also allows us some direct experience in between our reactions.

At the third stage, the burden of reactions lifts from our shoulders and our experience just happens, vividly. We find the clarity and peace that enables us just to see, just to experience, without inserting our reactions, but also without our I, without being the one who experiences. This is the practice the Buddha called clear comprehension. We see things as they are, just so, or in today’s vernacular, it is what it is. There is no separation between the seer and the seen. There is just the seeing.

At the fourth stage, which is the work of this part of the series on the Way of Attention, we become the true seer, the one who sees what we see, the one who experiences what we experience, the one who does what we do. We become I. This action of being I unifies the whole of ourselves, our body, mind, and heart, in the embrace of our I. Being I not only entrains our energies, but also creates a vessel that organizes and maintains them. For that, however, we must extend the sojourn of our I, we must be I longer and often. This is not just a matter of dogged perseverance to remember and to be, but even more a matter of coming to appreciate the surprising, wonderful, and transformative power of this simple act of being I. And, paradoxically, even as I, there is no separation between the seer and the seen. We do not set up our I as separate, but rather as the core from which we touch the world. I is not ego, centered but not self-centered.

In the next part of this series, we will explore the fifth stage of this relationship between our experience, our I, and the Sacred. For this week, please practice being the root and director of your attention. Ask yourself questions such as who is doing what I’m doing or who is looking? Then be your I. Be the center from which your attention arises. This is not so mysterious. Once you recognize this basic experience, it is easy to do for a moment. Our work for this week lies in extending the duration of our presence as I and in making it more frequent.


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